Sunday, October 2, 2011

Little Swallow

By Kevin

The week before last, my tutor was away, serving as a translator at the big Sino-Arabic Summit held in Yinchuan to promote trade between China and the Arabic world, largely through the production and export of Halal foods and the import of oil.

So, I had a substitute tutor. It was a bit frustrating at first.

It didn't start out well. He talked about how this would be a good chance for him to improve his English and for me to improve my Chinese. I quickly let him know that I wasn't paying him to improve his English. He'd get a chance to use some English because I don't know enough Chinese, but I wanted him to speak as much Chinese as possible.

It got worse when he started correcting my pronuciation of the Chinese word for the number 3 - "San." He insisted that it should be said with a long "a" sound like Americans use when saying "and." I told him that I'd always been instructed that it's a shorter vowel sound, perhaps closer to how Americans might say "on." Thankfully, Ruth's tutor came in later and told him that his pronunciation of that sound wasn't standard Chinese, nor was the "v" sound he used in "Weinan."

I never expected that my pronunciation of any Chinese sound would be more accurate than a native speaker. But I had to remind myself that Americans pronounce things differently depending on where they are from too.

Anyway, on the third day he came to tutor me, he brought an interesting children's song, "小燕子 (Xiao Yan Zi)" -- translated, it means "Little swallow." Here's a video ,
or you can watch it here.

He said that he learned the song when he was a child. His translation of the lyrics is what intested me most:

"Small swallow, who wears beautiful clothes,
Every year at springtime, you come back here,
I asked the swallow, why do you you return here?
The swallow said: "This place at spring time is the most beautiful."
Small swallow, let me tell you: this year it is even more beautiful,
We built a huge factory and adorned it with new machines,
We welcome you to always come back here."

As he explained, I stopped him: "If I was a bird, I wouldn't want to come back to a city that has a new factory."

"It's a song about progress," he assured me, a bit confused by my question.

"Not if you're the bird."

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